Hands-On with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, iOS, Mobile, Paul, Smart Home with 49 Comments

Hands-On with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit

Thanks to a $100-off sale at Best Buy this week, I snagged a Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit with Google Home a bit ahead of my expected schedule. But that’s fine, and it gives me a fun opportunity to preview the smart lighting solution I’ve chosen for our new home.

Note: I’m documenting my smart home in a series of Premium articles, the most recent of which isPaul’s Tech Makeover: First Steps Towards a Smart(er) Home (Premium). Long story short, I’ve chosen the Philips Hue product line for smart lighting. And while I wasn’t going to purchase anything until we had moved in (late August) and knew exactly what we needed, the Best Buy sale was too good to pass up, as we’ll need each of those pieces.

For those unfamiliar with smart lighting—and, no worries there, as I’m new to this as well—the Philips Hue line seems like the obvious choice. It’s compatible with everything—Apple HomeKit, if you’re an iOS guy, but also Google Home, which is what I’m using—offers a wide range of lighting options, and is incredibly powerful and extensible.

Current living room with “normal” light color.

Philips Hue is based around a simple bridge that connects via Ethernet to your home network and then wirelessly to the Hue light bulbs and other devices within your home. Setup is easy and similar to the ways in which you might set up a Google Home appliance or the Google Wifi mesh networking solution. That is, all you need to do is make the connections, and then run a simple wizard in a mobile app. It takes minutes to get up and running.

Philips makes a couple of Hue starter kits. They both include the bridge, which is required to put the “smart” in the smart lights, and can control up to 50 devices. And then you get three light bulbs, which can be either white or white and color. I chose the latter version. The Best Buy sale was basically a bundle that included this starter kit plus a Google Home appliance. So now we have two. (Which, yes, was the plan.)

I placed the new Google Home in our kitchen for starters, since that’s where it will be in the new house. I won’t belabor the point: It found the other Home on the network, and it is easy to setup.

For the Hue starter kit, I replaced the three normal (“dumb”) LED light bulbs in our current living room with the three Hue smart light bulbs and turn on each lamp; without any smart controls, they work normally and identically to the bulbs they replace.

Then, I connected the bridge to my home network over Ethernet—which is a curious requirement, when you think about it, not that it impacts me in any way—and then to power. When the device powered up, I launched the Philips Hue app on my iPhone and set about configuring it. Basically, you scan a code and you’re good to go.

My goals, for now, are modest: We’re moving in a month and I’ll need to really figure out the smart lighting configuration we’ll need at that time. For now, I just wanted to see it work.

So, I configured the three bulbs as a single room, imaginatively named “Living room.” That happened seamlessly, and without doing anything else, you can turn all three on and off as one from the app.

But you can also select the room and then choose between three sets of color controls: Color, which allegedly provides 16 million choices, Whites, which runs the gamut from warm to cool whites, and Recipes.

That last one is the most interesting, in a way, because it provides presets like Relax, Read, Concentrate, and Energize that color or tone (warm/cool) the room ambiance accordingly.

Suitably impressed with this simple capability, I gathered the family for a demo, thus ensuring that we will now spend thousands of dollars on additional smart light and controls, including strips, lamps, and things I can’t even yet imagine.

Our current living room bathed in red light.

Indeed, what makes Hue so impressive as a platform is its extensibility and automation capabilities. This brute force approach to lighting—make a room red, for example—is cute. But it’s also unsustainable, and if anyone switches a light off, it loses its settings. What’s really going to sell this is the ability to create scenes, and to apply lighting according to rules like time, weather, or events. For example, you could configure this thing to flash every light red whenever the Red Sox score a run. The possibilities are endless, and of course many applications are a bit more necessary than that example.

But first, there’s also that Google Home integration to consider.

As you can with Siri (via Apple HomeKit) and Alexa (via various Amazon Echo devices), you can control Hue lights and devices with Google Home. (Thus the bundle.) And—surprise—this is easy to set up too.

To connect the Hue system to your Google Home, first make sure that you’ve created a Hue account and signed in with the Hue app. Then, launch the Google Home app on your phone, navigate to Home control in the menu, and choose Philips Hue from the long list of supported systems.

Google Home didn’t respect the “Living room” room that I had set up in the Hue app, but it did find all three lights and let me add them to a room in that app too. And from that point, I could say things like, “Hey Google, turn on the lights” or “Hey Google, make the lights red” to control the system. In the future, when there are more lights, I will need to be more specific (e.g. “Hey Google, make all the living room lights green”). But it works great.

So I’ll be playing with Hue a lot more once we get to Pennsylvania, and I’ll be writing a lot more about my smart lighting and smart home moves in Premium posts in the weeks and months ahead.

See you on the other side. I’ll be the guy bathed in that pleasant, colored light.


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